Shito-Ryu, along with Goju-Ryu, Wado-Ryu
and Shotokan, is one of the four major karate systems of Japan
(the Japanese islands excluding Okinawa). It was founded by Kenwa
Mabuni (1889-1952), who, like most of karate's old masters, was
descended from Okinawa's so-called warrior (bushi) class or aristocracy.
Members of his family served Okinawan lords for hundreds of years.
Mabuni started karate training at the age of 13 under Anko Itosu
(1830-1915), the man who organized early karate in the Okinawan
school system. Itosu was a student of one of Okinawa's most famous
karate masters, Sokon Matsumura (1792-1887), the forefather of
Shorin-Ryu. Itosu took a strong liking to his young pupil and
Mabuni learned some 23 kata before the elder man died. Itosu's
death so grieved Mabuni that he built a shrine in front of the
master's grave and stayed close by for a year, practicing his
Itosu was not Mabuni's only teacher, however. While still in his teens, Mabuni was introduced by his friend, Chojun Miyagi (the founder of Goju-Ryu karate) to Kanryo Higaonna (1853-1915). From Higaonna, Mabuni learned Naha-te, a Chinese-influenced karate style. Mabuni also trained under the reclusive Arakaki Kamadeunchu (1840-1918), who taught a style similar to Higaonna. Arakaki, who was an acknowledged bo (staff) expert, taught Mabuni the unshu, sochin, niseishi, arakaki-sai and arakaki-bo forms.
During the 1920s the insatiable Mabuni participated in a karate club operated by Miyagi and Choyu Motobu, with help from Chomo Hanashiro and Juhatsu Kiyoda. Choyu Motobu was a master of Shuri-te (the antecedent of Shorin-Ryu) and gotende, the secret grappling art of the Okinawan royal court. Hanashiro was also a Shuri-te expert, while Kiyoda came from the same Naha-te background as Miyagi. Known as the Ryukyu Tode Kenkyu-kai (Okinawa Karate Research Club), this dojo was one of history's gems. Experts from diverse backgrounds trained and taught there, and it was there that Mabuni learned some Fukien white crane kung fu from the legendary Woo Yin Gue, a Chinese tea merchant living on Okinawa.
Mabuni, a respected police officer on Okinawa, had made several trips to Japan after Gichin Funakoshi introduced karate there in 1922. Mabuni spent most of his time in Osaka, where he taught at various dojo, including the Seishinkai, the school of Kosei Kuniba. In 1929, Mabuni moved permanently to Osaka. Shortly thereafter, the Japanese martial arts sanctioning body, the Butokukai, pressured all karate schools to register by style name. At first, Mabuni called his style hanko-Ryu (half-hard style), but by the early 1930s Shito-Ryu was the official name. It was coined from alternative renderings of the names of Mabuni two foremost teachers, Itosu and Higaonna.
from Unante © Shihan John Sells
Master Kenwa Mabuni